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Iceland Mag

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Unique puffin population of Reykjavík deserves to be protected

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • Colorful Reykjavikians The capital is home to 20-30.000 puffin pairs who nest in Akurey, a tiny island west of the old harbour area. Conservationists want the island protected. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

Every visitor to Reykjavík has seen the thousands of puffins peering out at passers-by from the windows of the many souvenir shops. But did you know that the capital also holds a pretty sizable population of actual puffins? 40-60.000 adult birds to be exact.

The puffin capital
Akurey-island, west of the old harbour in Reykjavík, is one of the many breeding grounds of this beautiful little bird. Akurey is a tiny island, one of the smallest in the Faxaflói bay, measuring only 300 meters (just 0.2 miles) where it is widest. Still it is home to 20-30.000 breeding pairs of puffin, making it one of the most densely population neighbourhoods of Reykjavík.

Although the puffin population of Akurey might seem impressive it is still only a tiny fraction of the total puffin population of Iceland. It is estimated that the total population exceeds ten million birds in a good year. The puffin is the most populous bird in Iceland.

A threatened bird
The puffin has been in retreat in Iceland in the past twelve years. The reason is climate change and changing temperatures in the ocean around Iceland. The Puffin feeds on the lesser sand eel, and a generous catch of sand eels is critical for the young. When the sand eel schools are small, which they have been in the past few years, the puffin population suffers.

The puffin colonies in Western and Southern Iceland have therefore been in retreat for the past few years, while those in Northern Iceland are still going strong.

A safe haven for puffins in the Capital
Recently Bird Life Iceland, an organization fighting for the protection and conservation of Icelandic birds and their habitats, asked the City of Reykjavík to permanently protect the Island. Erpur Snær Hansen, an ornithologist at the Southern Iceland Institute of Natural History told the the National Broadcasting Service that the puffin population of Reykjavík deserved to be protected.

Before the crash of 2008 hit ambitious plans were floated to develop the island as a part of project to reclaim land west of the old harbour. Erpur argues it is important to protect the puffin from such developments. Akurey is owned by the municipal authority.

Erpur argues the puffin colony is globally unique: "Any sea-bird colony with more than ten thousand breeding pairs is considered a large colony, and to have such a colony within the city limits is extremely enjoyable, and there is every reason to ensure it will remain there for future generations."

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